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World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) is a treaty-level conference regarding international rules and regulations for telecommunications, facilitated by the United Nations agency International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and hosted in Dubai in December 2012. Prior to its commencement, the United States House of Representatives and civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the proposals, claiming that they could potentially be harmful to Internet freedom.
On May 17th, 2012, a coalition of 31 organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, European Digital Rights, Human Rights Watch and the Internet Governance Project published a letter denouncing the WCIT’s secretive planning process and demanded that the ITU release all documents describing the WCIT’s proposals.
ITU Opens Public Consultation
On August 16th, 2012, the tech news blog Computer World published an article titled “ITU Opens Public Consultation on Internet Regulation Treaty," which reported that the ITU had published a draft of a document on their official website disclosing what would be discussed during the upcoming convention. The article also revealed that the U.S. House of Representatives had raised concerns that many of the proposals could restrict or censor the Internet by granting national authorities the right to impose taxes on Internet traffic.
Russian Proposal Leaked
On November 16th, the website WCIT Leaks published leaked documents revealing that the Russian Federation made a proposal to the United Nations to transfer power of Internet governance from the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to national governments. The same day, the tech news blog Cnet published an article titled “Russia demands broad UN role in Net governance, leak reveals,” which criticized the proposal and the ITU’s attempt at seizing power from ICANN.
On November 20th, 2012, Google published a video titled “Take Action: Add Your Voice to Keep the Internet #freeandopen,” which featured video clips within Google Earth software of people pledging their support for a free and open Internet (shown below). The video also promoted Google’s “Take Action” website by urging viewers to pledge support on FreeAndOpenWeb.com, which raised concerns over the WCIT’s “closed-door meeting.” On the following day, the BBC published an article titled “Google Attacks UN’s Internet Treaty Conference.”
On November 30th, CNN published a guest column by American computer scientist Vinton Gray Cerf, considered one of the “fathers of the Internet” for co-inventing Internet protocol and transmission control protocol, which raised concerns about the ITU’s proposals which could allow governments to censor legitimate speech and cut off Internet access. On December 4th, Venture Beat reported on Cerf’s criticisms of the conference in an article titled “Vint Cerf Invented the Internet, and Now He’s Trying to Save it.” The same day, Redditor PrivateBytes submitted a post to the /r/AdviceAnimals subreddit titled “Neither would I,” which featured a photograph of Cerf with the caption “I don’t always create the Internet / but when I do, I don’t let the U.N. fuck it up” (shown below). Within five hours, the post received over 15,200 up votes and 350 comments.
On December 3rd, The Daily Dot published an article reporting that the Internet Defense League (IDL) group of web activists were attempting to raise awareness about the ITU and their attempts at transferring power of Internet governance. As of December 4th, 2012, over 36,000 individuals, 1,430 organizations and 175 countries had signed on to the Protect Global Internet Freedom petition, which called for the ITU to refrain from attempts at controlling Internet governance.
On December 4th, the day after the WCIT began in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Ghana Business News quoted ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, who attempted to dispel rumors that the WCIT would restrict the free flow of information:
“Fears have also been expressed that new provisions in updated ITRs might help to legitimize government censorship. And I fully agree that this should not happen. This conference will not stand in the way of the need to protect the right of the freedom of expression, the right to communicate, and the right to privacy.”
Computer World – ITU Opens Public Consultation on Internet Regulation Treaty
Ghana Business News – Highlights of 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications
Electronic Frontier Foundation – EFF Joins Coalition Denouncing Secretive WCIT Planning Process